Tudor court at the time of Anne Boleyn’s rise must have been a very exciting place to be – if you were a supporter of Henry’s new love that is. When Anne Boleyn began to build a household the excitement must have been palpable. So much youth restored at court once again – laughter, love and other courtly adventures.
Today we take a look at the ladies who served Anne Boleyn. This is not all the ladies, only the ones I was able to find with the help of the wonderful Kate Emerson and her website: Index to ‘A Who’s Who of Tudor Women. Her website is well researched and organized for anyone to use and I’d highly recommend you take some time to check it out.
Jane (Joan) Ashley
Jane is listed as a maid of honor to Anne Boleyn in January 1534. She was definitely a maid of honor to Queen Jane Seymour, and then married Peter Mewtas (Meautas, Meautys, de Meautis) in 1537 (before October 9). In 1540 and 1541,
Jane was apparently in the household of Prince Edward. Henry VIII’s household accounts list the expense of 10s for “a dozen handkerchiefs garnished with gold” in each of those years.
Jane’s husband was knighted in 1544. Their children were Cecily, Frances, Henry, Thomas, and Hercules.
A lady called Anne Boleyn’s “old nurse” is believed to be Mary Orchard/Aucher, who later became a chamberer in Anne’s household and was with her at the end of her life in the Tower of London.
The identity of this woman is unknown, as is her marital status, but it seems likely that she was a connection of the Boleyn family through the marriage of Isabel Boleyn (d. April 23, 1485), Anne’s father’s paternal aunt, to Henry Aucher of Otterden, Kent. The name is also spelled Orcher. According to Alison Weir’s, The Lady in the Tower, Mrs. Orchard was in the gallery at the trial of Anne Boleyn when the Duke of Norfolk condemned Anne to be burned or beheaded at King Henry’s pleasure. At those words, she “shrieked out dreadfully.”
Isabel Agard was a member of the Agard family of Foston, Staffordshire. She married John Stonor (1480-1550). She may be the Mrs. Stonor who was with Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London in 1536 and/or the Mrs. Stonor who was Mother of Maids under Henry VIII’s next four queens. See the entry for Isabel’s sister-in-law, Margaret Foliot for more speculation on this identification. Isabel was the mother of Francis Stonor (1520-1564) and Henry Stonor. Retha Warnicke identifies Mrs. Stonor as “perhaps the wife of John, the king’s sergeant at arms,” in her. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn.
Mary was the older sister of Anne and also George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. She accompanied Princess Mary Tudor to France in 1513 and afteer the death King Louis XII of Frances Mary served the next queen consort, Queen Claude.
Learn more about Mary Boleyn by reading these earlier posts about her:
Mary Boleyn – Guest post by Susan Abernethy
Mary Boleyn Loses First Husband to Sweating Sickness by Rebecca Larson
The Downside of Marrying for Love: Mary Boleyn by Rebecca Larson
*Portrait: there is no authenticated portrait but six versions exist of one in the school of Hans Holbein that is called Mary Boleyn, including copies at Hever Castle and Holyroodhouse; a miniature is also unconfirmed.
The daughter of Edmund Bray, 1st baron Bray and Jane Hallighwell, Anne Bray was married to George Brooke, 9th Baron Cobham.
Barbara Harris in her work on aristocratic women names Anne, Lady Cobham as one of Anne Boleyn’s first accusers but M. St. Clare Byrne argues that Lady Lisle’s man in London, John Husee, would not have referred to a noblewoman as “Nan Cobham” and therefore he must have meant some other person, probably someone lower on the social ladder. Lady Cobham was in Anne Boleyn’s coronation procession and was one of Queen Jane Seymour’s ladies. According to David McKeen’s A Memory of Honour: the life of William Brooke, Lord Cobham, Lady Cobham was at Cobham Hall in July 1545 but shortly afterward joined her husband in Calais. They lived in the Lord Deputy’s residence there for the next five years. In 1554, when her husband and sons were imprisoned in the Tower of London after Wyatt’s rebellion, Lady Cobham was given permission to visit them there.
Elizabeth Browne was the daughter of Sir Anthony Browne and Lucy Neville. She married by 1527, Henry Somerset, 2nd earl of Worcester.
Elizabeth was at court in the household of Anne Boleyn and seems to have been a friend of queen’s. It was noted that on the 8th of April 1536, she borrowed £100 from the queen. At the time of Anne Boleyn’s arrest Elizabeth Browne had not repaired her.
An unsubstantiated story has Elizabeth taken to task for immorality by her brother, Sir Anthony Browne (1500-1548) and responding that she was “no worse than the queen.” One variation on this story identifies Elizabeth as King Henry VIII’s former mistress and has her specifying that her brother should talk to Mark Smeaton and one of the queen’s gentlewomen called Marguerite for details on the queen’s misconduct. Another version has Lady Worcester issuing the reprimand and an unidentified woman comparing herself to the queen. The source appears to be a poem dated June 2, 1536 and written by Lancelot de Carles, a member of the French embassy to England. Gossip prevalent at the time of Queen Anne’s arrest did mention Lady Worcester as a source of some of the accusations against her, but specifics are elusive. Similarly, comments Queen Anne made during her imprisonment are open to various interpretations.
It is still uncertain who Nan Cobham could be. There has been speculation over the years regarding her identity but no concrete answers to solve the mystery.
According to a letter from John Husee, viscount Lisle’s man of business in London, dated 24 May 1536, “the first accusers” against Queen Anne Boleyn were “the Lady Worcester, and NanCobham and one maid more.” Lady Worcester was Elizabeth Browne, wife of the earl of Worcester, but “Nan Cobham” is more difficult to identify. As M. St. Clare Byrne points out in The Lisle Letters, it seems unlikely that Husee would refer to Anne Brooke (née Bray), Lady Cobham so familiarly. So who is the “Mrs. Cobham” among the queen’s gentlewomen who received a New Year’s gift from the king in 1534? Is she the same “Anne Cobham” who was one of Katherine Parr’s gentlewomen in 1547? Or was that Anne Bray? There was an Anne Cobham, widow (not Anne Bray) who, in 1540, was granted some of the lands formerly belonging to Syon Abbey. There was also a Cobham family in Dingley, Hampshire. An Anne Cobham from there married John Norwich (c.1497-before 1553) around 1518. And yet another Anne Cobham (1467-June 26, 1526) was the wife of Edward, 2nd Lord Borough. Just to complicate matters, members of the Brooke family sometimes used Cobham as a surname. The practice was not unique. It is also found in the Fiennes/Clinton, West/de la Warr, and Sutton/Dudley families. Retha Warnicke, in The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, suggests that Nan Cobham may have been the queen’s midwife. In the January 1534 list of Anne’s ladies, Mrs. Cobham is listed eighth after the “mistress of the maidens” and the seven names before hers are those of maidens, not married women, but that may or may not be significant.
Frances de Vere
Frances de Vere was the daughter of John de Vere, 15th earl of Oxford and Elizabeth Trussell. Frances married Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in April 1532. Frances and Henry lived apart until 1535 because of their youth.
Alison Weir in Henry VIII: The King and his Court, states that Anne Boleyn arranged the match over the objections of the duchess of Norfolk and that Frances was at court as one of Anne’s ladies from 1533.
Frances was also noted to have been at the court of Katherine Howard, however, there is no evidence of her at court after the queen’s execution. Katherine gave her a brooch set with tiny diamonds and rubies.
According to one of her grandsons biographers, Frances also wrote poetry (like her husband the Earl of Surrey). Her children were Jane, Thomas, Catherine, Henry, and Margaret. Frances miscarried in 1547, the year her husband was executed for treason. She was ill for some time afterward.
They lived at the manor of Earl Soham near Framlingham Castle, returned to her from her first husband’s estate by Edward VI. She was granted nine manors by the duke of Norfolk, her father-in-law, after his restoration in 1553. They were worth £353/year. In July 1554, Frances represented Queen Mary at the christening of the French ambassador’s son and in December 1557 she was chief mourner at the funeral of her sister-in-law, Mary Howard.
Elizabeth Holland was the daughter (some sources say the sister) of John Holland of Wartwell Hall in Redenhall, Norfolk and a kinswoman, probably a niece, of John Hussey, 1st baron Hussey of Sleaford.
John Holland was the duke of Norfolk’s secretary and one of his stewards and Elizabeth, known as Bess, was also part of the ducal household at Kenninghall in 1526. At that time, Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk noticed her and she became his mistress.
Because of the letters left by the duchess of Norfolk (Elizabeth Stafford), there is a good deal of confusion about Bess Holland. Since she was a gentlewoman, she was probably not a laundress in the household, or the children’s nurse. She may have been their governess. She was certainly on good terms with Mary Howard, Norfolk’s daughter.
When Anne Boleyn was created Marquess of Pembroke, Bess Holland was one of her maids of honor and she was still at court in 1537, when she rode in the funeral cortege of Queen Jane Seymour.
The records left by the duchess of Norfolk paint Bess Holland as a villainess and the duke as a monster, but the truth is probably less dramatic. Bess was his mistress for some twenty years. In December 1546, however, when both the duke and his son, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, were charged with treason, Bess gave evidence against them. She probably had no choice.
Margery Horsman was a maid of honor to Henry VIII’s first three queens and a member of the households of the last three, although in some accounts of Anne Boleyn’s life, she is identified as “of the queen’s wardrobe.”
In the January 1534 list, hers is the seventh name after Mrs. Marshall, “mistress of the maidens.” If there were only six maids of honor, this may indicated she held another position. Or not. She was probably the “one maiden more” who was the third of three women to make accusations against Anne Boleyn in 1536. Edward Baynton recorded that “Mistress Margery” first assisted him and then became uncooperative, which fits with a report by Sir William Kingston that suggests she was loyal to the queen. Margery may also be the “Marguerite” mentioned as a witness in some reports. And she may have been with Anne Boleyn in the Tower. What is certain is that when Jane Seymour was queen, Margery offered advice to Lady Lisle about placing her daughters at court and appears a number of times in the Lisle letters. In particular, she advised that Anne Bassett, Lady Lisle’s daughter, was too young at fifteen to serve as a maid of honor to Queen Jane. Margery married Sir Michael Lister of Hurstbourne, Hampshire (d.1551), as his second wife, on June 27, 1537 and with her husband served jointly as Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels. She had two children, Charles (d. November 26, 1613) and Lawrence. Portrait: The portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger labeled Lady Lister is probably Margery’s mother-in-law, Isabel Shirley, but I include it here on the off chance it is Margery instead.
Mary Howard was the daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk and Elizabeth Stafford. By birth she was part of two very noble families in the realm, the Howards and the Staffords.
Mary was a maid of honor to her cousin, Anne Boleyn and married Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond (illegitimate, yet acknowledged son of Henry VIII) at Hampton Court on 26 November 1533.
For more reading about Mary Howard, see our previous post about here:
Mary Howard: Bold Disobedience by Rebecca Larson
Elizabeth Isley was the daughter of Sir Thomas Isley and Elizabeth Guildford.
Her first husband was Richard Hill who was a wine merchant and master of Henry VIII’s wine cellar. It is believed that Elizabeth had ten or eleven children. Among them were Mary, Margaret, Frances, Anne, and Richard.
“Mrs. Hillis” is listed as one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies in January 1534 and it is tempting to think that this may have been Elizabeth Isley.
After the death of her first husband, Elizabeth remarried in 1540 to Sir John Mason who served in a number of civic posts, including ambassador to the court at Brussels under Mary Tudor.
Elizabeth was with him when he served in France. Together they had one son, Thomas.
Grace Newport was the daughter of John Newport and Mary Daniel. Married at the age of eight to Henry Parker (on May 18, 1523, Grace was the mother of Henry, 9th baron Morley, Charles, Edmund, Mary, Margaret, and Ann (or Amy).
According to Alison Weir’s Henry VIII: The King and His Court, she was one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies in waiting from 1533. Portrait: Grace is generally accepted to be the subject of the Holbein drawing inscribed The Lady Parker.
Mary Norris was the daughter of Sir Henry Norris (who was executed 17 May 1536) and Mary Fiennes and was born around 1526.
It is believed that Mary was was a maid of honor to Anne Boleyn (she would have been fairly young in that position). It is more commonly believed that she served Jane Seymour – most definitely to Anne of Cleves and probably to Katherine Howard.
It was also noted that there was a Mary ‘Norice’ in Elizabeth Tudor’s household around 1536, and this may also be the same woman.
By February 1, 1541, Mary married Sir George Carew, Vice Admiral of the English fleet and was at Southsea Castle with the king in 1545, watching the ship her husband was aboard, the Mary Rose, when it suddenly rolled over and sank. Lady Carew fainted. In armor, her husband had no hope of surviving.
Mary married a second time in 1546 to Sir Arthur Champernowne. She brought jointure lands worth £65/year to the marriage. With Sir Arthur she had five sons and one daughter: Gawen, Elizabeth, Philip, Charles, George, and Edward.
Jane Parker was the daughter of Henry Parker, 8th baron Morley and Alice St. John but she is best known as Lady Rochford, wife and then widow of George Boleyn, Queen Anne’s brother, to whom she was married in 1525.
Further reading on Jane:
Jane Boleyn: Victim of History by Rebecca Larson
Anne Savage was the daughter of Sir John Savage and Anne Bostock and born around 1496.
Anne’s description at TudorPlace.com.ar is a woman “of middling stature, with a comely brown complexion, and much tender-hearted with her children.” She was at court and apparently in the household of Anne Boleyn before Anne Boleyn was queen. She was one of only four or five people to witness Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry VIII on January 25, 1533 and was Anne Boleyn’s trainbearer.
For more on Anne being witness to the secret wedding read this previous post:
Witness to a Secret: Anne Savage by Rebecca Larson
Anne Savage did not remain long at the new queen’s court. In April 1533, she married Thomas, 6th Baron Berkeley, known as “the Hopeful.” They had a daughter, Elizabeth (1534-September 1, 1582) and nine weeks after her husband’s death, Anne gave birth to his son and heir, Thomas, 7th Baron Berkeley.
Lady Berkeley was an avid letter writer, and was written about as well. A number of these missives are still extant, including one to Lord Cromwell on May 1, 1535 to complain about the Court of Wards, which opposed the release of her jointure. A letter from John Barlow, dean of Westbury College, to Lord Cromwell, also in 1535, complains about Lady Berkeley’s interference in his attempt to prosecute a number of men who were caught playing tennis “in service time” (in other words, when they should have been in church). The incident occurred near where she was living in Yate, Gloucestershire and she actively rallied opposition to Barlow’s charges. Barlow had earlier had a run in with Lady Berkeley over some religious books found in her house, but since both Catholic and radical Protestant texts were equally frowned upon at this time, it is difficult to say what Lady Berkeley’s beliefs might have been.
Jane Seymour was the daughter of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth. She was the sister of Edward, Thomas, Henry, Elizabeth and Dorothy Seymour and mother of KIng Edward VI.
Jane came to court as a maid of honor under Katherine of Aragon and then to the household of the new queen, Anne Boleyn.
For more reading on Jane Seymour:
Jane Seymour’s Rise to the Throne by Rebecca Larson
Known as ‘Madge’, Margaret Shelton was the daughter of Sir John Shelton and Anne Boleyn, who was the sister of Queen Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas. Madge came to court as a maid of honor to her cousin, Queen Anne around 1535.
It is commonly believed that Madge Shelton had a brief affair with Henry VIII while he was married to her cousin.
Kimberley Schutte, in her biography of Lady Margaret Douglas, describes Madge Shelton as a “pretty girl with dimples . . . very gentle in countenance” and “soft of speech,” but she also seems to think Margaret and her sister Mary were the same person and further identifies Madge as the “handsome young lady at court” who may have been the king’s mistress in 1534.
The name “Mistress Shelton” next crops up in connection with the king in 1538, as both a potential mistress and in describing Christina of Milan, who was said to resemble her.
It is unlikely King Henry was considering making Margaret his mistress again in 1538, since she was by then married to Thomas Wodehouse or Woodhouse.
Mary Zouche was the daughter of John Zouche, 8th baron Zouche of Harringworth and his first wife, Dorothy Capell – she was born around 1512.
In about 1527, she wrote to her cousin, Sir John Arundell of Lanherne (Mary’s grandmother was Margaret Arundell, Sir John’s aunt), asking to be taken into royal service because her new stepmother (Susan Welby) was cruel to her. The letter was probably written before 1529. It is dated only “at Notwell, the 8th day of October.”
Mary Zouche was at court as a maid of honor possibly to Katherine of Aragon, but certainly to Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour.
A number of accounts say Mary never wed, but the will of Robert Burbage, identifies his late wife as “the eldest daughter of John Zouche, knight, Lord Zouche, Saint Maur and Cantelupe.” It would appear that they married shortly after the 1542 payment of her annuity, when Mary was about thirty years old. They had one daughter, Anne Burbage, who married William Goring in 1563.
An Index to a Who’s Who of Tudor Women by Kate Emerson